LONDON (Reuters) - From where Ben Ainslie lives on the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England, he can look out over the waters where in 1851 the schooner “America” won the cup which bears its name.
What started as a childhood dream of winning the America’s Cup has become an obsession to become the first British challenger to lift the “Auld Mug” and bring it “home”.
Ainslie’s first shot at achieving that ended on Thursday, when a team from New Zealand, one of only four countries to have won the cup, beat his Land Rover BAR crew in the semi-final of the 35th America’s Cup challenger series in Bermuda. [L8N1J55S7]
“We knew it was going to be incredibly tough at the first attempt,” Ainslie told a news briefing after the race.
“Ultimately we weren’t able to catch up with the existing teams in time,” sailing’s most successful Olympian, who is not used to losing, added.
He has won the cup before, as tactician with Oracle Team USA in their 2013 comeback against Emirates Team New Zealand.
But Ainslie wants to win it for “Queen and country” and under the banner “Bring The Cup Home” set about mounting his own challenge, launching BAR with the aim of doing something British teams have tried and failed to do on some 20 occasions.
Getting an America’s Cup boat on the water, let alone competing with Oracle Team USA and Artemis Racing, which are both backed by billionaires, costs tens of millions of dollars.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the team today ... Three and a half years ago a few of us were sitting around a table in London ... what we have we have achieved today is incredible,” Ainslie said in the televised briefing.
Ainslie managed to raise 90 million pounds ($116 million) to fund his campaign, building a massive team headquarters in Portsmouth on the south coast of England.
This base looks south across the Solent to where he now lives with his wife the sports presenter Georgie Thompson and daughter Bellatrix in the aptly named village of Seaview.
His “commute” to work is either on a high speed ferry or in his own RIB speedboat across the channel where he hopes one day to defend the cup for Britain.
To do so he will need to keep bringing the money in.
Land Rover BAR has been part funded by wealthy private investors with a passion for sailing, including entrepreneur Keith Mills and Dixons Carphone Chairman Charles Dunstone.
Ainslie paid tribute to both men’s involvement on Thursday and said that Land Rover was renewing its partnership with BAR to compete for the next America’s Cup.
In order to succeed, Ainslie has attracted corporate sponsors such as Land Rover, BT, BAE Systems and Siemens who have provided financial backing and technical know-how.
One supporter who has set Land Rover BAR apart is Britain’s Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine, who has sailed with Ainslie and is patron of the 1851 Trust, the charity he has set up to get young people to discover science and technology through sailing.
As well as being team principal, skipper, part-time fund-raiser and ambassador, Ainslie has managed to attract an impressive team to the BAR stable, including chief executive Martin Whitmarsh who was previously at McLaren Formula One.
On the water he signed up Jono Macbeth, a 44-year-old New Zealander who has three America’s Cup wins, as sailing team manager and enlisted Giles Scott as tactician on his catamaran “Rita”, the name Ainslie gives to all his racing boats.
As ever with Ainslie, no sooner was he back on dry land on Thursday than he was looking to his next challenge.
“Already the work is starting on the next campaign ... and we will be that much stronger next time,” he vowed.
Editing by Ken Ferris